Oct. 26, 2011
By MICHELE DANNO
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Former University of Iowa letterwinner and 31-year head tennis coach Steve Houghton has steered the Hawkeye men’s program through a lot over the past few decades — except the opportunity to host an indoor Big Ten Championship.
After this weekend, he can add that to his list of accomplishments.
Beginning on Friday, Houghton and his Hawkeyes have their first chance to invite the Big Ten’s top competitors into their home at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Center for four days of some of the NCAA’s best action in the Big Ten Championship singles and doubles tournament.
Voted on by the Big Ten coaches, Houghton said being asked to host a tournament of this caliber speaks volumes about the progress the Iowa program has made in recent years.
“Until 2006, we didn’t have a facility to hold something like this in Iowa City,” Houghton said. “It’s a big event, and the fact that the other coaches agreed to have it here means they like our facilities and have paid attention to the state of our program. It’s definitely a sign of our strength, and the guys have been excited about this since they found out a few months ago.”
With only one Iowa native on the roster, the majority of out-of-state and international players are proud of the home they’ve made for themselves in the Hawkeye State, and are excited to showcase their skills to the entire Big Ten in front of the Iowa City community.
With no travel expenses or roster limitations, Houghton said he plans on playing as many men as possible, and he’s hoping local support from university and community members gives his Hawkeyes a little extra push.
A few Iowa student-athletes have triumphed in this tournament, with former Hawkeyes Tyler Cleveland and Christian Bierich both claiming Big Ten indoor titles within the last 10 years.
Houghton sees the 2011 tournament as a chance for history to repeat itself, as it will conclude what he’s deemed the Hawkeyes’ “best fall season since (he) can remember.”
Boasting a 46-34 team record in singles, and recent success by seniors Will Vasos, Marc Bruche, and sophomore Jonas Dierckx at the ITA All-American Championships, Houghton said he’s confident his men are “capable of just about anything” in the Big Ten.
Vasos, who has been a top competitor for the Hawkeyes since his freshman year in 2008, said this tournament has added significance for he and his five fellow seniors, as it is a chance for them to “protect (their) house” for the first and possibly last time.
“Year in and year out, our class has stayed really close,” said Vasos. “This year, we’re even closer because we’re all leading the younger guys together. Of any team I’ve been with here, I’d say these guys show the most dedication and will to win. We all have the same vision of how we want this season to go, and that’s with a Big Ten championship.”
While Iowa finished last season with a losing conference record, redshirt junior Mitch Beckert feels the Hawkeyes have been given a “fresh start” this year because of changes within the conference — namely the addition of Nebraska, who the Hawkeyes have yet to face. This milestone makes the tournament even more meaningful, and he thinks the added pressure will be extra motivating for his teammates.
“My whole life, people have always considered Iowa a football school or a wrestling school,” said Beckert, the team’s sole born-and-bred Iowan. “It’s cool to see Iowa getting recognition for something outside of that, and I’m glad to be a part of it before I graduate. We’re used to representing the University of Iowa on the road, but it’s going to be cool to show the new-and-improved Big Ten Conference what we can do at home, in front of our friends and family.”